Transgender author read from her memoir-in-progress

The Hawk, Saint Joseph's University/November 11, 2009

Wearing large rounded glasses, brown slacks, knee-high burnt orange leather boots, and a brown animal print vest that displayed colorful tattoo sleeves adorning both of her arms, transgender author Kate Bornstein read from her memoir-in-progress on Nov. 3.

Sitting on the top step of a folding ladder placed in the center of a cozy living room in Faber House, a Jesuit residence next to Maguire Campus, Bornstein spoke frankly and passionately about growing up as a boy, spending years as an active and high-ranking member in the Church of Scientology, and being estranged from her daughter.

Bornstein spoke openly about her life, drawing listeners in with her emotion and humor. Although much of the reading spoke on Bornstein's life before her gender reassignment surgery, it was evident that every step of her life, every moment she writes about in the text influenced and were greatly impacted by her gender.

A major section of the memoir that Bornstein read dealt with the years she spent as a fervent Scientologist. She worked closely with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as a full lieutenant on Hubbard's flagship Apollo, trying to "become a real man" that she never felt she was.

Speaking to some of the inner workings of Scientology and how she was eventually pushed out because she was falsely accused of stealing money from the church and later labeled a "suppressive person."

With a sense of reflection and introversion that came across in her memoir's passages and her very presence, Bornstein found a connection between her gender and her past in the church. Thetans, the Scientologist entity similar to souls, have no gender, and she may in fact encompass some of the traits ascribed to them.

"I'm a walking success story for Scientology," she said.

Bornstein said her reasons for writing her memoir, titled "Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger," include completing two "Herculean" tasks left on her bucket list: to reconcile with her daughter, whom she hasn't seen in 16 years, and come to terms with the death of her father, whom she never told that she was transgender.

Bornstein has not seen her daughter since she left the Church of Scientology, and has never seen her grandchildren. Though she doesn't believe that her daughter will ever contact her, Bornstein said that she thinks her grandsons may pick up the book.

She also spoke about her relationship with her now deceased father.

"We were lost boys, each in our own way," said Bornstein about herself and her father.

Although unable to become a woman while her father was still alive, Bornstein later had gender reassignment surgery.

"I became the girl I always wanted to be," she said.

Before concluding the reading, Bornstein read an excerpt from her book, "Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws." Suicidal six times in her life, Bornstein gave sincere advice, garnered from her own experiences, to those gathered.

"You do whatever it takes to make your life worth living . . . anything at all," she said. "As long as you're not mean, do anything you want."

Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, 61-year-old Bornstein is proof that her own advice works.

Exemplifying the compassion and humor she displayed throughout the night, Kate handed out Monopoly-inspired "Get Out of Hell Free" cards. "I will do your time for you. It's a deal I made with the devil."

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